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Who will be the next IPCC chairman?

The last time an IPCC chair position was up for grabs was in 2001, when things were not so politicized and aggressive, and there was not so much money and power on the table. Lobbying for this role is running hot and Tony Thomas compares the five men who are standing for this role. The position will be decided by October 8, and the new chairman will presumably be influential, or at least very visible, in Paris at the UNFCCC in early December. In the elections, there is one vote per country, so it is not so much about scientific credibility (and never was, think of Pachauri) but more about the powerful voting blocks that may form with small developing nations. Given that the new chairman will be in the media frequently and soon, this post is about being prepared. No  matter who wins, I think the IPCC is unsaveable and needs to be shut down or deprived of funding as soon as possible.   — Jo

Guest Post by Tony Thomas

Five candidates have put up their hand to become chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from October 8.

They are Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (Belgium), Hoesung Lee (Korea), Thomas Stocker (Switzerland), Chris Field (USA) and Nebojsa Nakicenovic (Austria).

The elections will be at the meeting of the IPCC in Dubrovnic, Croatia, from October 5-8. Further nominations are unlikely but it is possible that ‘wild card’ candidates could be nominated at the meeting itself, with a vote 24 hours later.

Each of the 195 nation-state members of the IPCC have an equal vote by secret ballot. The vote of Vanuatu (pop 250,000) carries the same clout as the USA’s. This means candidates, and their national backers, will be courting the myriad small states for votes, using hard and soft diplomacy as occurred in 2001.

A win requires a simple majority. If no majority occurs on the first voting round, the top two candidates are put to a run-off vote.

The chair has been vacant since February when Dr Rajenda Pachauri, 75, resigned abruptly after a 29-year-old female analyst at his TERI thinktank in Delhi filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. Pachauri has since been on bail after Delhi police charged him with  molestation, stalking, sexual harassment  and criminal intimidation. The IPCC then appointed  Vice-Chair Ismail Elgizouli (Sudan) as acting chair until October 8.

The IPCC chair position and other top roles carry no salary but give  global prominence and status. Leaders’ home governments or institutions pick up the tab.

Van Ypersele and Hoesung Lee are two of the three current vice-chairs (Elgizouli is the third). Stocker is co-chair of Working Group 1 (the science); and Field is co-chair of Working Group 2 (Impacts and Adaptation). If the IPCC operated logically, the showdown would be a contest between the Swiss-backed and US-backed candidates, whose science credentials are overwhelming.

The Candidates

Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Austria, Prof of Energy Economics

Austria’s Nakicenovic is the least-known quantity. He has had IPCC roles for 25 years since the first IPCC report, mainly on energy chapters. In the latest 5th report, he was a Lead Author of Chapter 5 (Drivers, Trends and Mitigation) in WG3 (Mitigation).

He is Deputy Director General/Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), and former Professor of Energy Economics at the Vienna University of Technology. He has authored more than 300 papers.

Van Ypersele, Belgium, Climate models & Antarctic sea ice

Van Ypersele, 58, is profiled at Quadrant Magazine. In a futuristic  tract van Ypersele wrote for Greenpeace in 2004, he predicted that in 2039, King William V of Great Britain (i.e. today’s Prince William), will die at age 57 from the West Nile virus as a result of the planet’s IPCC-predicted global warming.

He’s a physics PhD whose research was on the effect of global warming on Antarctic sea ice – an interesting topic, as  Antarctic sea ice is at a record extent for the satellite era. (Ypersele tweeted last October 7: “Scientists explain why record-high Antarctic sea ice doesn’t mean global warming isn’t happening”). He later specialised in climate modelling. He was a lead author  for the third IPCC report in 2001, and for the fourth report (2007) chaired plenaries for the three Working Groups.

Dr. Hoesung Lee, Korea, Economics

Dr. Hoesung Lee is the only Asian candidate and hence has some cachet with the anti-West blocs in the UN. The absence of a third-world candidate so far is surprising. Hoesung Lee earned his PhD in economics from Rutgers University, USA. He’s an energy specialist and has been prominent on many heavyweight Korean boards, including Hyundai, and in Korean government advisory roles. He’s been a prominent IPCC author since the third report in 2001.  He speaks fluent English although Lee’s style is rather bland.

Dr Thomas Stocker — Swiss, Climate models & Ice cores

Stocker is making  a sophisticated bid for the chair and has created a cool “Thomas Stocker for IPCC Chair” website.

One section, headed “Future of the IPCC”, sets out his goals, viz:

Stocker’s platform clearly reaches out to nondescript IPCC members for votes. The IPCC already practises affirmative action for third-world and female recruits: Stocker seems to be adding “youthfulness” to the selection process.

He writes, “As Chair of the IPCC, I will [he means ‘would’] exercise thoughtful and innovative leadership and carefully listen to alternative views and complementary ideas, with a firm commitment to consensus…

“As Chair of the IPCC, I will [would] ensure unequivocal, clear and understandable communication that is fully rooted in the rigorous scientific assessment and that incorporates information about uncertainties in an open and transparent way.”

He also claims to have his force-multiplier in the form of support from “a Technical Support Unit and a team of international experts at the University of Bern” – something other candidates may not be able to compete with. He is Professor of Climate and Environmental Physics there.

Stocker, Zurich-born, did his PhD in Natural Sciences at ETH Zurich. His research is largely climate models and ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. He has total faith in the IPCC’s “Atlas of Regional Climate Change Projections” for plotting changes in temperature and precipitation in all regions of the world for four emissions scenarios and for several time horizons between now and 2100 – “an incredible achievement”, he said.

In fact, the disclaimer to the Atlas says its output is not ‘forecasts’ but only projections conditional on climate forcing assumptions, shortcomings of models and ‘internal variability’ (p.1313).

Stocker is big on the ‘cumulative carbon budget’ concept for limiting warming risks, although any such budget relies on the yet-unquantified linkage between CO2 and temperature. At a Paris seminar on July 7, he said the ‘business as usual’ climate threat would stymie the UN’s sustainable development goals.

He attracted some controversy in late 2012 because of a letter he signed to lead authors in early 2010, after Climategate in 2009. He initially demanded it be kept secret, with a threat to the UK that publication could put IPCC/UK working arrangements at risk.

When disclosed, the secret IPCC letter was fairly anodyne but included a sentence, “The IPCC Chair, Vice-Chairs and Co-Chairs are working on a strategy to ensure that work on the AR5 is as effective as possible whilst at the same time emphasizing the robustness of the AR4 findings.”

This was viewed by sceptics as acknowledgement that on-going IPCC work was not open-minded but defensive of AR4. Stocker’s rival, Chris Field, is blunt about AR4’s shortcomings (see below).

Even in late 2013 and after a 16-year halt to warming, Stocker was still claiming the IPCC’s ‘simple key messages’ were:

He includes assertions about “the [assumed] near-linear relationship between cumulative carbon emissions and peak warming in the 21st century, the fact that with every 10 years of CO2 emissions rising at the current rate, about 0.5°C of climate target is being lost.” Again, this fails to mention the 18-year warming halt  in the face of very significant CO2 emissions increases.

Stocker in 2013 said climate trends required at least  30 year period, although the original 1990s warming scare was based on barely a decade of warming. He also claimed, improbably, that  “the projections of the global mean temperature were extremely good already back in 1990”. (The IPCC FAR 1990 predictions were wrong, below even the lowest possible estimate.)

Stocker received an interesting email from  East Anglia CRU’s Phil Jones [2440 in the Climategate series]: “I’ve been told that IPCC is above national FOI Acts. One way to cover yourself and all those working in AR5 would be to delete all emails at the end of the process. Hard to do, as not everybody will remember to do it.” Instead of expressing abhorrence at such tactics, and upholding the IPCC’s professed devotion to transparency, Stocker responded warmly that allowing access to climate data under laws prescribing ‘open access to environmental data’ would be a ‘perversion’. (This contrasts with the line of his competitor Field“I think that having an IPCC that is visible, transparent and has high quality leadership is going to be an important part of making sure that the science isn’t marginalised in any country… I do think there are lot of was to be more open and more ambitious in making the process inclusive and making the process transparent.” )

For some reason Stocker has included on his “Stocker for IPCC Chair” website artwork by “renowned graphics” artist Claude Kuhn, showing someone with his head nearly underwater as a result of sea level rises.

Chris Field — USA, Biologist

Biologist Chris Field is the candidate endorsed by the US Department of State, and is endorsed by White House science czar John P. Holdren as a ‘superb candidate’. Field has his own “Candidate for Chairman” website –- not as cool as Stocker’s — where he says he has experience in all three IPCC working  groups.

He says, “I am a scientist of the highest caliber. I have tackled difficult and important research challenges, publishing over 300 scientific papers that have been cited over 50,000 times.”

Field is the founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology and Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at Stanford University. His research involves field and laboratory studies of impacts of climate change, from the molecular to the global scale. He was prominent in writing the IPCC Special Report on “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” (2012). He’s won the Max Planck Research Award, the Heinz Award, and the Roger Revelle Medal.

He supports “new levels of integrity, relevance, and clarity in IPCC’s definitive assessments of knowledge on climate change.”  He also wants more user-friendly and multi-media graphic-designed styles to improve IPCC communication: “For future reports, the IPCC has compelling opportunities for enhancing the clarity of its products. Options include enhanced editing, use of technology, and effective structuring of reports. My goal is to help authors see the reports through the eyes of users.”

Field’s efforts towards communicating WG2 findings in AR5 extended to raising a million dollars personally for author travel, training, and outreach to the public.

Talking about IPCC prose, Field says “It’s like trying to write poetry, but with hundreds of people shouting suggestions in different languages. So it’s a real challenge, but I think it’s the most important challenge we face.”

In one extraordinary argument, Field says the IPCC should start with the summary for policy makers and work back from there to the science chapters:

“My feeling is that we should really start with the synthesis report, and figure out how to construct working group reports that feed into that in the most useful, integrated way. One of the questions – it’s been open for discussion in past reports – is, well, do you know what the questions are for the synthesis report until you’ve done the working group reports? And I think that now we have so much knowledge, and so much sophistication about the climate change issue, and, in fact, we can go the direction of designing a synthesis report, figuring out what angles we’re going to take, what are the question that are going to be explored, and then customising the working group reports so that they contribute to that set of goals in the most effective way.”

It is interesting that Field foresees IPCC outputs continuing indefinitely, after a flurry of third-party views that perhaps the IPCC reached its use-by date with its 5th report of 2013. Field elaborated: “I’m not sure the IPCC has decided to do big assessment reports. They’ve decided to keep the basic structure of the three working groups, with an increased focus on the synthesis report and with a series of special reports.”

He hints at improving on the lamentable PR snafus of his predecessor Pachauri, and stresses that he would manage well the delicate relationships between the chair and the IPCC 195-country panel of governments which calls the final shots on IPCC output. “I understand…the many options for phrasing any one finding,” he says, referring to the all-important synthesis reports crafted by the governments. The crafting can involve all-night wranglings  about what to say and what to leave out – such as the 5th report’s admission that 111 of 114 models are running too hot.

In a nice back-hander at Pachauri, Field says “In AR5 we were a lot more attentive to quality control than we were in the AR4”.

His interviewer Roz Pidcock in Paris July 8 seemed comically unaware the criminal charges against Pachauri. She asked Field specifically to detail Pachauri’s achievements as chair. Field ducks and bobs and merely says that every IPCC leader and participant is credit-worthy.

On scientists as advocates, he says (without addressing the objectivity/credibility problem): “Well, most scientists are parents, they’re teachers, they’re grandparents, they’re members of churches. The fact that someone has a PhD behind their name doesn’t mean that’s all they are. So when I speak as a representative of the IPCC, I tell the IPCC’s story. If I speak as a parent, I speak from my personal experience and my aspirations for my own children.”

On expressing his personal views if elected IPCC chair: “It would be irresponsible to ignore the strong identification that whenever I appear as IPCC chair, I will be identified as such, rather than as the parent of two lovely children.”

He is a fan of IPCC special ad hoc reports, and mentions oceans as a possible topic: “Oceans are kind of a new topic, in the IPCC, and one that’s richly interdisciplinary.” Odd that after 30 years climate work, he still sees oceans (71% of the earth’s surface) as ‘a new topic’. Field also mentions potential topics such as food security and desertification, neither of which are running the IPCC’s way.

He says increasing the engagement in the IPCC of “regional diversity, gender diversity, diversity of seniority” are “all really really important.” Such statements nullify the oft-repeated mantra that the IPCC comprises the world’s finest cohort of climate scientists.  Like Stocker, he seems to be appealing now to the youth vote.

IPCC  — other elections, candidates and voting

A large number of other IPCC positions are up for grabs. Candidates for slots on the IPCC governing Bureau are Thelma Krug (Brazil), Edvin Aldrian (Indonesia),  Serhat Sensov (Turkey),  Gregory Flato (Canada),  Sergev Semenov (Russia),  Carlo Carraro (Italy), Amjad Abdulla (Maldives, pop 350,000 ), and Cheik Mbow (Senegal).  Other candidates for non-specific Bureau slots are Fahmuddin Agus (Indonesia),  Peter Adek Omeny (Kenya) and Fatma Betui  Bayguyen (Turkey). Australia, despite its prominence among IPCC authors, fields no candidate.

Voting for the routine Bureau positions involves quotas. IPCC members are arranged into blocs as follows: Africa, 54 countries with 7 guaranteed positions on the 33-member Bureau; Asia (32 countries, 6 positions); South America (12, 4); North/Central America (23, 4); SW Pacific (22 including Australia, 4); and Europe (52, 8). Note that  USA and Canada have no more seats than the Australasia/SEA axis.

Contrary to many people’s understanding, the Paris climate talks in December are under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), not the IPCC. The IPCC is a participant and the new IPCC chair will have a prominent role.


Abbreviations: WG2: Working Group 2. WG1: Working Group 1.

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